Chinese President Xi Jinping on Thursday put military officials overseeing the South China Sea on high alert:
“It’s necessary to strengthen the mission…and concentrate preparations for fighting a war,” said Xi. “We have to step up combat readiness exercises, joint exercises, and confrontational exercises to enhance servicemen’s capabilities and preparation for war.
The South China Sea is a strategic area situated south of China between Vietnam and the Philippines. The area is rich in gas and has massive potential in terms of global trade. China claims complete sovereignty over the entire region and is actively creating man-made islands where it can position surface-to-air missiles.
China’s claim over the South China Sea is not based not on international rules, but on a map the country issued in 1947. Six other countries have valid claims on the region: Taiwan, Japan, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, and Vietnam. And while the United States has no claim, it is concerned by China’s growing influence in the region as well as its ignorance of international law.
Earlier this month, a Chinese Navy vessel came within 45 yards of a US ship patrolling the region, forcing a quick maneuver to avoid a crash. Chinese officials have warned that US air and sea patrols are likely to cause ‘unexpected accidents.’
“Despite such reckless harassment, the US Navy will continue to fly wherever international law allows and our national interests demand,” said Vice President Mike Pence. “We will not be intimidated and we will not stand down.”
Last week, retired Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges said we would probably be at war with China in 15 years:
“It’s not inevitable – but it is a very strong likelihood that we will be at war with China,” said Hodges, a former commander of the US Army in Europe. Hodges warned that our European allies may be on their own in the face of a resurgent Russia should America get wrapped up in defending its partners in the Pacific.
“The United States does not have the capacity to do everything it has to do in Europe and in the Pacific to deal with the Chinese threat,” said Hodges.
Xi’s talk of war comes amid increasing tensions between China and the US over trade, Chinese expansion, intellectual property theft, and Taiwan. And while his words should not be taken at face value, we must remember that China has ambitions well beyond good trade.
Trump is aware of this, and he will push for negotiations without causing a war. Let’s hope the next president can do the same.